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Old 05-19-2013, 08:51 PM   #1
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Default Sailing in Gales / squalls

just been reading about the different stratagem available for coping with squalls / gales.
One of the suggested options was to seek a safe harbour. however it qualified this by stating that you should ensure you had sufficient power to do this before giving up sea room. so if you had an unshore wind / off shore flowing tide / a breakwater that required you to turn upwind to gain acess to the harbour you need to ensure you have sufficient power.
my question is how do you know ? the way the question was stated would suggest that there is a calculation that can be carried out prior to the maneuver. if so can someone out there give it to me. i can not believe that you have to try it out before you know if you have sufficient power !!!! - not the kind of thing one can practice - so help.
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Old 05-20-2013, 01:00 AM   #2
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I think that seeking a safe harbour alone is predicated upon one's ability to seek it safely. Given that we are sailing boats with auxilliary engines, we need to realise that our 'fall-back' position must always be wind in sails.

I would therefore suggest, and I put this forward purely as a theory, that if it is not possible to make the safe harbour under sail, it should be regarded as unattainable and the skipper should set about increasing his sea room under threat of the impending storm.

That there is an onshore wind will be obvious; that there is an ebbing tide (and perhaps a cross current) should be known. Presumably the presence of the breakwater is known either as a matter of local knowledge or from a chart of the area. The only unknown therefore is the amount of power needed to propel the boat upwind and thence into safety behind the breakwater. There is no calculation, there is merely inclination and the litmus test can only be 'suck-it-and-see'. And that is hardly a worthwhile mantra for the prudent mariner..(Remember I'm talking theory here).

I would not attempt it. First you need to furl the sails, then if the power of the auxilliary is not fully sufficient (imagine full keel, cross current, wind on the nose, bow falls away) you end up closing on a lee shore, with the possibility of other foul ground and no means of propulsion and perhaps complete loss of water flowing past the rudder for steerage.....It's a nightmare.

Rather, shorten sail, clip in, head for open water, prepare a drogue if it looks like it is going to endure, heat the water, make a coffee with just a wee tot of rum, try to whistle down the wind and think happy thoughts.

If, on the other hand you are in a boat which, in keeping with more modern trends, has a motor which is more main than auxilliary and the thought of heading to sea is a total anathema..then give it a shot.

Either way you will be able, later on, to regale all and sundry at the yacht club bar with tales of bravado and derring-do in the face of the terrible tempest.

Win-win..Yay!
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Old 05-23-2013, 07:43 PM   #3
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I heartily agree with all that Auzee has said above, except the act of whistling"down" the wind. On several occasions when becalmed at sea I have whistled for the wind and been rewarded with full gales. This is not a joke and though I'm quite sure that the calm we were experiencing was indeed the proverbial "calm before the storm" it was pre-satellite weather and I shall never know.
It is interesting how geography affects sayings such as this.
I would like to say that in my opinion, rocks sink well found vessels, not the seas. Sea room is my watch word (OK, two words) in inclement weather, especially in waters I am unfamiliar with.
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Old 05-23-2013, 08:29 PM   #4
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Sea room, sea room. Indeed I agree with Auzzee. If at sea, stay there, yes.

Most sailboats indeed have auxiliary engines and really cannot manage the entire entrance into safe harbor under power alone. Further, if you're short handed, you'll find getting down sail in a tight harbor to be very scary and much more consuming than expected. My worst harbor experience was trying to get in sail during only 25 knots of wind in a tight harbor.

Our only real experience sailing in a gale (near end of a gale, really with 25-40 kts of wind that day) was motor sailing straight into it all day to reach a safe anchorage before sunset. Note, this was an island anchorage and we were anchoring in the lee of the island so going upwind into the gale. I wouldn't have gone into an anchorage with a lee shore, no. During a gale I'd enter an anchorage, yes, but a harbor--no, not unless it was a HUGE harbor with anchorages within the harbor. I wouldn't take a slip in high winds as it would be crazy difficult to do so without damage IMHO. I recounted the story of our gale motor sailing in the middle of this post on our blog here and the thing I found incredible was the fact that 8 sailboats had tried to motorsail into that anchorage that afternoon but we were the only one who succeeded (according to a boat already anchored there). It is hard to motor or sail upwind against strong winds.

Today this topic is especially salient, because right now we're twiddling our thumbs in port while sitting out a gale in the channel islands (same situation as recounted in 2010 link) but on this trip there are only 2 of us aboard (not 3 as in 2010) and we're much more cautious. It is possible that we will make a motoring run for the same anchorage through near-gale (25-30 knots) conditions in order to round a significant cape (Pt's Conception and Arguello) while weather is a little more favorable (18-25 knots). Else, we're stuck wandering the SoCal channel islands for the next couple weeks.

In our case, the motor is sized for pure motoring rather than motor sailing or aux use. The boat is supposed to have a 60-80 hp motor and ours is 125 hp (thanks to previous owner who wanted to use it motoring against nasty seas going up the West Coast). Further, the prop is pitched for best performance under rough conditions rather than best speed on flat waters. Most prop shops will ask you how you intend to use your engine on your sailboat. They asked us if we wanted fuel economy or performance in bad conditions. We told the manufacturer that we'd be sailing but wanted the motor to claw off lee shores and if conditions were bad. So--we lucked out that our prop is pitched correctly for the worse conditions.
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Old 05-24-2013, 01:42 AM   #5
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My father, who entered the Royal Navy as a 'boy sailor' at fourteen, told me of how, when plying the oars on a whaler going ashore, the boatswain would exhort the sailors to 'whistle up the wind' so that oars could be shipped and the boat could make the shore under sail. All hands would whistle a single note to bring about this atmospheric change.

'Whistling down the wind' is a totally different animal and related not to the act of whistling to calm the tempest, but relates to dismissing, or casting off concerns while showing a brave face.

Once when my father was sailing with me whilst crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria (I would have gladly turned back but couldn't because of the sea state), I began whistling when preparing a meal after the wind and sea had abated enough to allow it, he chided me to cease whistling unless I wanted the return of the fury.

A clever businessman, logical thinker and proud veteran he is; but lessons learned aboard warships in WW2 told him that whistling will bring wind, and to not heed the legend could be folly indeed.
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Old 05-24-2013, 06:26 PM   #6
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Default Sailing in Gales / Squalls

Hi Auzzi,

as usual sound advice, but i have to admit your response set me off on one. As i was thinking about what you had written, the light bulb began to flicker, blue sailing is like life, it is about managing that little devil that is in us blue water salior types, you know the one, the one that whispers in your ear go on you can do it - and then that's when you get into trouble. that is the calculation one has to make, to way up the risks to you, your crew & your boat and manage them as best you can with that inner devil perched on your shoulder, whispering away. we do it every day on land and sea the only difference is the elements we are dealing with. so now i understand i get it. just one thing though, sea anchor, drouge or heave -too, the tot of sprits is manditory.
Fair winds.
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